Judicial System Lesson Plan: The Argument Wars Game

Grade Levels: 6-8, 9-12

In this judicial system lesson plan focusing on the Argument Wars game, adaptable for grades 6 through 12, students use BrainPOP and GameUp resources to learn about the purpose and function of the Supreme Court. Students will use basic legal vocabulary terms as they role play the position of a defendant, prosecutor, and jury in an interactive game. The game gives students a meaningful way to use the information they’re learning about the Bill of Rights and the American court system to defend a given point of view during mock trials.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Identify the purpose and function of the Supreme Court
  2. Use basic legal vocabulary terms in authentic contexts
  3. Explain and role play the position of a defendant, prosecutor, and jury


  • Photocopies of activity pages
  • Internet access for BrainPOP and iCivics


federal law; supreme court justice; nominate; judicial review; unconstitutional evidence; violate; opinion; appeal; hearing; jury; burden of proof; witness; verdict; acquittal; sue; sentencing


This lesson plan features a free interactive game from iCivics. You can reference the Teacher's Guide to Using Argument Wars in the Classroom, and an iCivics lesson plan and graphic organizers for additional ideas and support materials. Make a class set of photocopies of the Vocabulary page. Photocopy the Graphic Organizer on the back. Photocopy the Activity page separately.

Play a practice round of the Argument Wars game from iCivics to familiarize yourself with the game. Determine which one of the five available cases best ties in with your curriculum, or whether you will allow students to select their own cased based on interest. Keep in mind that you can mute the music by pressing P on the keyboard.

The activities in this lesson plan may be split into as many class periods as needed. Divide the class into three groups and explain that students will keep these groups for the duration of the activities.

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Project the Supreme Court Quiz to serve as a pre-assessment and determine what students already know. As you show each question, allow time for students to discuss their answers within their group and come to a consensus. Have each group share their answers and facilitate discussion to address any misconceptions.
  2. Tell the class that they will be learning more about the Supreme Court and how trials work, and will then have several opportunities to participate in mock trials, both online and in class. Pass out the Graphic Organizer for students to record their thinking and take notes as they learn.
  3. Show the Supreme Court Movie. Turn on the closed captioning to assist students in their note-taking, and pause the movie to discuss as needed. Allow each group to discuss their answers afterward.
  4. Have students flip their papers over to reveal the Vocabulary page. Play the movie through a second time and have students make notes about the vocabulary definitions as each word pops up.
  5. Project the game for the class to see and play a sample round together, demonstrating how to form coherent, logical arguments.
  6. Allow students 15-20 minutes to play the game (one or two cases) independently or with a partner. If you do not have access to a class set of laptops or a computer lab, you can assign the game for homework and allow students to play it before and/or after school in your classroom.
  7. Conduct a whole-class discussion about students' experiences with the game. What was the most difficult part of arguing a case? What were some effective strategies for countering the opposite side's argument? Provide time for students to explore additional cases on the iCivics site whenever possible.
  8. Tell students that the class will be conducting a mock trial on an issue that is important to them. You can use the FYI feature to you help explain how mock trials work.
  9. Project the Mock Trial Graphic Organizer for the class. Assign each of the three groups to one role (defense, prosecution, or jury.) Fill out the top part of the graphic organizer by typing directly into the form. Create your own facts based on the Goldilocks case or invite students to suggest them.
  10. Ask both the defense and prosecution groups to suggest several arguments and type them in as they are discussed. Scaffold students' learning as needed, referring to basic principles they learned during the BrainPOP movies and their Argument Wars game. Guide each group to formulate strong arguments.
  11. Solicit input from the jury group. Bring them to the front of the classroom and guide them through the decision-making process. Encourage the other two groups to notice which of their arguments were persuasive and which weren't. Type in the jury's final decision.
  12. As an independent activity or for homework, have students select and research a Supreme Court case that interests them. A list of important cases is available under the FYI feature. Provide students with the Activity page to help them record their ideas. Explain that the class will select one of these cases to use in their mock trial.
  13. Collect students' completed activity papers, and choose between several that would be good choices for a mock trial. Present the cases to the class and allow them to vote on the one they would like to debate.
  14. Assign each group to a different role (defense, prosecution, or jury) and provide class time for the prosecution and defense to form their arguments. The jury group should use this time to conduct practice trials using the Argument Wars game.
  15. Conduct the mock trial as a class and allow the jury to vote. You may wish to repeat this process once more so that each group has had a chance to play all three roles at some point during the unit of study.

Extension Activity:

Use the Court System movie to teach students about the different types of American courts. Students can use the Graphic Organizer to record facts about each court. You can also have the class complete the Activity as an assessment. Or, use it as further practice and reinforcement by cutting the bottom portion of the page into strips so that one event is on each strip. Pass the strips out to students or pairs/triads of students and challenge the class to arrange themselves in the correct order. Further support is available in the Teachers section of iCivics, including Lesson Plans, Curriculum Outlines, Webquests, and more.

You may also want to use the other Social Studies Games featured in GameUp. Some examples include Law Craft (in which students pick an issue that is important to them and constituents and take it all the way through the law-making process), Executive Command (in which students play the role of the president for a full term and explore veto power), and Branches of Power (which allows students to control all three branches of government).

BrainPOP Movies:

Bill of Rights (Activity Page Answer Key)
Court System (Activity Page Answer Key)
Supreme Court (Activity Page Answer Key)
Trials (Activity Page Answer Key)